Jeffrey McHugh

Youth Sunday Senior Sermon

I’m so grateful to have grown up at Kenilworth Union Church and been a part of this community. Going here since birth, this church is set deep in the foundation of who I am as a person and it’s influenced me in many different ways. I’ve met some of my best friends through the church and I’ve formed a lot of great relationships along the way. One of the most important relationships I’ve made has been with God, and I think that going here has instilled me with a good set of values that have been very important in my life. Some of my earliest memories take place here… I still remember Mrs. Kiphart who led the kid services over in the Schmidt Chapel and used her puppet, Nadine, to tell the stories. I have a vivid memory of myself standing right there and singing “Away in a Manger” at the Christmas pageant when I was four. I remember going to the habitat every year and being fascinated with the gold coin sand sifting station, then leading that same station in fifth grade and teaching the younger kids about it. I remember earning my Bible, playing Joseph in the Christmas pageant, and I’ll never forget the time I climbed on top of the roof of the Church somehow when I was 7 and got in trouble for it, sorry for that. I also remember becoming close with all the people in my grade, being with them for so many years, and how it was great knowing them when we all ended up together at New Trier.

Through it all, I’d have to say that one of the main driving forces in my Church experience has been Silvi Pirn, the youth group leader and one of my best friend’s moms. I first met Silvi in 7th grade when I started going to youth group— until then, I had only heard about her from my older brother, who told me how fun and crazy she was and that I should just trust whatever weird thing she wanted to do that day, because her out-of-the-box activities always turned out to be a lot of fun. And on the first day of JYG, when I pulled up to the manse to see that the entire front yard had been converted to a 30 foot slip-n-slide, with giant clear tarps, buckets of soap, and a hose, it was clear that my older brother was right. She was who’s to blame for the cool, creative nature of youth group, or JYG as we called it. She was one of the nicest and most energetic adults I had ever met, and was the only parent I knew who would cook boxes of spaghetti, not to eat but to use for a game called “spaghetti hairstyles,” where we’d put handfuls of piping hot spaghetti onto our friends’ heads for fun. She was always up for trying out, or inventing, new ideas for games, like human foosball or toilet paper dodge ball, or contests to see who could blow up a balloon with their nose or duct tape each other to the wall the fastest. She was also up for activities that some authority figures “might” not have allowed, like our full-out ice cream fights in the manse. But there was a clear reason why everyone kept coming back every Wednesday night and that reason was Silvi. Being the mother of my good friend made her very present in my life outside of church as well. One moment I’ll never forget, because it sums her up so well, was the time I walked into their house to find her overjoyed, running over to me with a strange looking fruit called a “Buddha’s hand” and shouting “Jeffrey! I’m so glad you’re here! You’ve just got to try this weird foreign fruit I found!”

Although I may have made her sound a lot weirder than she actually is, she’s a great role model and youth group had a big impact on all of us 7th and 8th graders. Although each week’s activities seemed to consist only of fun, they always had some sort of meaning that she’d tie into them, usually relating to a lesson from church or a passage of scripture. After the games we’d reflect in small groups on things like our relationships with God, prayer, or Christian values. At an age where most kids viewed going to church as a chore, she was able help teach them about God and develop their faiths in a way they didn’t argue with. This is why, freshman year, I asked her to be my confirmation mentor. And of course, in Grand Silvi tradition, when all the other confirmands were doing quick meetings with their mentors at Starbucks, Silvi decided to travel to an off-the-grid Asian marketplace so that we could cook an authentic Asian meal in her kitchen.

After being confirmed I decided to become a high school helper, and I’ve been lucky for the past two years to have gotten paired up with the best group of 4 and 5 year old kids and parent teachers that I could imagine. Each kid has their own unique personality and it’s been a joy teaching them the same lessons that I learned years ago, preparing them for the same Christmas pageant I used to do, and singing all the songs I remember, like “Fishers of Men,” “Deep and Wide,” and “Father Abraham.” I also missed youth group so much that I joined CORE, the high school leadership team of JYG, and it’s been one of the highlights of my week every week for the last few years. Although I spent *most* of the time talking and hanging out with the other Core leaders, (sorry for that) it’s been a blast and I’m sad I won’t have those energetic Wednesday nights to amp up my weeks in college next year. Thank you all for impacting me in all the ways I’ve mentioned, especially Silvi, Katie Lancaster, Carolyn Raitt, Anne Faurot, all my past Sunday school teachers and all my friends from youth group and all else, I’ll miss you next year and I’ll be glad to come back when I’m home from college.